The ongoing investigations into the murder of rationalist and CPI leader Govind Pansare have reached a crucial point. The police have expanded their probe to include relatives and close associates of Sameer Vishnu Gaikwad, the main suspect in the case. Sanatan Sanstha and Hindu Janajagruti Samiti — two hardline Hindu organisations with which Gaikwad and his associates were affiliated — are also being probed. Gaikwad is not alone. Another Sanstha member, Sarang Dilip Akolkar, suspected in the 2009 Margao blast, is still absconding. Two things are becoming increasingly clear. One, the police is now able to connect the dots between the murders of Pansare, killed in February 2015, with that of Narendra Dabholkar, another rationalist and anti-superstition crusader killed in 2013. The modus operandi for both murders was almost identical. Two, such acts of extreme violence based on religious intolerance are becoming more commonplace. The shooting down of Kannada scholar M.M. Kalburgi late last month, and the open threat to execute his close colleague, K.S. Bhagwan, appear to be a replay of targeting rationalists. The key question confronting the government is: What are the implications of this malevolent streak gaining ground for India’s claim to being a modern nation, inviting the world’s talent to “Make in India”?
The response from the government, as far as the messaging is concerned, has been muted. While several noted artists and thinkers have registered their outrage — Hindi writer Uday Prakash even returned his Sahitya Akademi award in protest against Kalburgi’s assassination — statements from the government have hardly conveyed such indignation or sent the right message to the perpetrators of such crimes. Ultimately, it’s the credibility of the state that is involved — it needs to be seen to be even-handed when dealing with law and order or acts of religious intolerance. This means showing the same urgency in addressing attacks on non-conforming free-thinkers or religious minorities as in any terror strike. The risks of downplaying or ignoring any acts of violence are real, especially for a secular country that projects itself to the outside world as celebrating diversity in thought and belief.
Now that there is a credible line of inquiry available to the police, the government should ensure that the investigation does not flounder or get limited to the organisations to which Gaikwad is affiliated. These may not be fringe groups working in isolation. Their connections with other radical Hindu groups, if any, need to be thoroughly probed and taken to their logical end.